Thursday, January 15, 2009

Can Mickey Kaus count to Four ?

I have always assumed that he is sneaky not stupid, but I have begun to wonder if Mickey Kaus has really grasped the possibility that there might be more than three numbers: "Negative", "Positive" and "Zero". If there is any proof that he understands that one positive number might be larger than another, I'd be interested in seeing it.

Kaus Wrote (via Yglesias)

My crude default view: If we have robust economic growth, we don’t need greater unionization to boost low-end wages. If we don’t have economic growth, then greater unionization isn’t going to do much to boost low-end wages by itself. And greater unionization will actually make economic growth less likely.


I suppose I should note the words "crude" and "default", so to be as charitable as possible, this may just show that Kaus thinks that all positive numbers are approximately the same. If anyone can present and defend a still more favorable assessment of Mr Kaus's grasp of the concept of the number, I would be interested to hear it and honestly sincerely surprised.


I think it is easy to see that his argument is bogus without bothering with specifics like the definitions of the word "union" and the phrase "economic growth". There is a clear equivocation in

"If we have robust economic growth, ... If we don’t have economic growth." So economic growth is either robust or nonexistent ? This is not a mere slip. Kaus really relies on the equivocation. He can argue that with robust economic growth things will be great. Any example of things not being so hot with economic growth doesn't disprove this claim, he will just claim it wasn't "robust". Then he can argue that with zero economic growth, things will be rotten. What he can't argue is that things were fine and dandy from 2002 through 2007 with normal economic growth and median wage stagnation, nor that there was median wage stagnation in the 50s with similar growth rates and strong unions.

He is making a false dichotomy between robust growth and no growth. He is also being totally innumerate. He considers all "boosts" to low end wages to be equal, that is, he considers only whether the trend is positive or negative. With robust growth and no unions, low end wages will rise. With robust growth and unions they will grow faster. His argument, such as it is, does not depend on the claim that unions slow growth. It is a totally invalid argument based on his manifest incapacity to grasp the fact that there are more than three numbers ("positive", "negative" and "zero")

Basically he claims that the effect of unions is dwarfed by the difference between 4% real GDP growth per year and 0% real GDP growth per year. OK now how about Mickey Kaus just shutting up forever. Mr Kaus and I disagree about whether this would be a good thing or a bad thing, but we agree that it is dwarfed by the difference between 4% real GDP growth per year and 0% real GDP growth per year.

update: I'm quite serious. I think I can explicate Kaus's argument. I really think the following is a fair clarification of his thought

If we have robust economic growth, we don’t need greater unionization to boost low-end wages [that is there is a rate of economic growth so high that, without unions low-end real wages will grow. All positive numbers are approximately equal so if economic growth is positive then low-end real wages will grow approximately as fast as anyone can wish.] If we don’t have economic growth,[That is, if Real GNP growth is zero or negative, then per capital real GDP growth will be negative, real low-end wages will decline. All negative numbers are approximately equal, so] then greater unionization isn’t going to do much to boost low-end wages by itself. And greater unionization will actually make economic growth less likely [,because I said so based on my idea of common sense and without looking at any data].

This is my best effort to make sense of the Kaus quotation. Perhaps someone can do better and come up with an interpretation which is not based on the assumption that all positive numbers are approximately equal, but, for the life of me, I can't imagine what that interpretation might be.

update: Wow I got a link from Kaus. Odd since I linked to Drum not Kaus directly. I quote the relevant text which includes the link.

And greater unionization will actually make economic growth less likely.**

**--Why? Because the litigious, adversarial, cumbersome everything-must-be-negotiated culture and structure of American unionism is incompatible with the flexible, rapidly changing workplace required to be globally competitive in the twenty-first century! (E.g., compare Toyota's production system with Detroit's model.) That's one reason why. ... Also, greater union power (at least until you get to near-universal unionization) promotes the wage-price spiral, requiring depressive Fed action to tame inflation. That's another reason. ... 10:04 P.M.


Notably Kaus does not contest my theory that he believes that all postive numbers are approximately equal. Nor does he provide another interpretative key to his original post. Instead he responds to the fact that I note in passing, that he argues,in passing, that unions are bad for growth. The assertion that unions are bad for growth is not central to his original argument. It is tacked on at the end (note the sentence begins with the word "And"). He has asserted that unions do approximately no good, which would be quite a result if he had argued it convincingly, and adds that he thinks they are bad for growth.

My principal objection was to his principal argument which concludes that unions do approximately no good using the assumption that all positive numbers are approximately equal. Kaus does not contest my claim that his reasoning is based on that assumption. Instead he debates a second point, which is, of course, immensely important. I think he doesn't contest my interpretation of his reasoning, because it is impossible to contest my interpretation of his reasoning. His brief argument is clearly entirely based on the assumption that all positive numbers are approximately equal. Someone might be able to come up with another interpretation, but, I concluded that Mr Kaus, himself is not that someone. That he has conceded that, yes indeed, he reasons on important issues using, relying on and accepting without any hesitation or doubt the assumption that all positive numbers are approximately equal.

I propose that future discussions of Mr Kaus's contributions to the economic debate take note of the fact that he assumes that all positive numbers are approximately equal and that people who r take his arguments seriously be asked if they too assume that all postiive numbers are approximately equal. I have made the accusation. He has, evidently, happened upon my accusation. He has chosen not to contest it. Until further notice, I think it is reasonable to tentatively conclude that Mickey Kaus agrees that he makes and relies upon the assumption that all positive numbers are approximately equal.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

What is interesting is that none of the Robert Waldmann idols show even the slightest concern with the massacre of Palestinians and decimation of Gaza. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, any Democratic leader? Are you kidding me? Imagine my surprise.

Criticize Israel? The Waldmann Internet idols? Are you kidding me?

Return now to criticizing fools, which is safer than any substantive moral matter.

Anonymous said...

Robert Waldmann:

The key phrase in Makiw's defence of Fama is "judgment call."
This is, I think, an explicit appeal to the "sphere of legitimate debate." *

He doesn't say the classical model is valid, but he does say that the discussion should be open to people who think that it is.

He does not think the same about, say, Marxists, or economists who can't handle Kuhn Tucker ** conditions....

* http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2009/01/12/atomization.html

** Nothing like presumption or pretense, but Karush–Kuhn–Tucker conditions are those aspects of regularity necessary for nonlinear programming to be optimal.

[Pretense can be so becoming.]

Anonymous said...

The point is that there is reason to argue through past experiences and whether a stimulus is necessary and if so what sort of stimulus is necessary, rather than dismiss the question as supposed liberals are suddenly doing. That the New Deal was effective, that a stimulus is needed now and especially a soft and hard infrastructure spending stimulus is needed now is to me easily shown, but argument is as legitimate now as in November 2007 when on the verge of formal recession a New York Times analyst wrote there was already a recession so far as workers were concerned and the analyst was immediately mercilessly ridiculed by a supposed liberal prominent economist.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/10/opinion/10herbert.html

November 10, 2007

Recession? What Recession?
By BOB HERBERT

If it looks like a recession and feels like a recession ...


http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2007/11/can-we-retire-b.html

November 10, 2007

Can We Retire Bob Herbert?
By Brad DeLong

Yes, it is yet another edition of why oh why can't we have a better press corps. This time it is Bob Herbert who should be retired and sent to doing something socially useful.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, about the fear that pervades analysts, Bob Herbert who has been a continual peace advocate from Iraq to Afghanistan has mentioned Israel's horrible decimation of Gaza in a single line which is lots better though than Thomas Friedman calling for war crimes in Gaza as a teaching lesson.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/world/middleeast/18mideast.html

January 18, 2009

Israel Criticized for New Deaths as Cease-Fire Looms in Gaza
By STEVEN ERLANGER

Israeli tank fire killed two young brothers sheltering at a United Nations school even as Israel prepared to declare a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza.

Anonymous said...

http://angryarab.blogspot.com/2009/01/terrorism-unto-nations.html

January 17, 2009

"Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish, a Palestinian doctor who trained in Israel, has been a regular fixture on Israeli television during the 21-day-old war against Hamas militants, bringing witness accounts of the medical crisis facing Gazans to Israeli living rooms. His report Friday was drenched in grief as he sobbed through a cell phone that three of his daughters and a niece were killed by an Israel Defense Forces shell." * You honor the victims by opposing any peace with the terrorism that is personified in the state of Israel.

* http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1056198.html

-- As'ad AbuKhalil

Anonymous said...

Ah, I did not notice, the spelling is Mankiw of course. I hate spelling a name wrong, since I do not want that to be taken for disrespect even when I wildly disagree.